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Kanye West’s La Dolce Vita [Cover Story Excerpt]

Photographer Fabien Montique


What is the definition of cool?

Michael Jackson made “Heal the World.” He could do that because he was golden. He was himself. He didn’t have to try to be cool. Think about a lot of your favorite bands and groups. Would they make a song called “Heal the World”? No, because they are too concerned about their leather jackets. Ironically, they are probably wearing leather jackets because of Michael Jackson. Once you’re put in power, you have to take advantage of the position you’re in to make the world better. There were times when I thought I was making the world better, or maybe I just wasn’t thinking at all.

I’ve been dealing with the MTV incident every day of my life since it happened. The single thing that hurt me the most is when I found out how much Taylor Swift wanted to work with me. It wasn’t about Black or White, it wasn’t about wrong or right, it wasn’t about real or fake. It was about humanity, and at no point in life can you think that you’re such a god that you do not have to deal with humanity.

My biggest goal is to be anchored in taste and beauty, and there are some things that I’ve done that are just blatantly distasteful. As I grow up, I want to be able to apply good taste at all times. Knowing the audience, knowing who you’re talking to and how to be expressive and get your point across without being offensive is the key. It’s not about, Hey, I’m going to be offensive, and I’m going to be difficult. It’s like, No, I’m not going to be difficult.

Timing is everything. Good timing is a sign of good taste. I’ve heard people say, “Kanye told the truth. Beyoncé should’ve won.” But that doesn’t mean it was the right moment for me to express those feelings. There are certain people that know how to tell you things at the perfect time for you to be able to accept them properly. I wasn’t that person then.

I stress that the incident wasn’t about Taylor personally. And it definitely wasn’t about race. Where I messed up is, at the end of the day, it’s your show, Taylor. It’s your show, MTV. The relationship with the public and with your fans is like the relationship with your girlfriend. How could I not, at a certain point, be like, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been at the awards show. I’m sorry.” Not that I don’t deserve to get beat up or change who I am inside, to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. But damn, it was, like, a neo–Emmett Till. A media massacre. I was neo–Emmett Till’d, if I could turn Emmett Till into a verb.

I wasn’t expecting the reaction I got. When I did things like that or the “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” moment, it wasn’t a matter of being selfish, from where I stood. It’s more like I was being selfless—that I would risk everything to express what I felt was the truth. In this case, it was like I was driving a car and I needed to run this red light to make it to the airport, but by me running this red light, I ran someone over in the process, and that’s what people saw from a distance. Now I’m the biggest jerk in the world. Good morning, Kanye West, this is your life.

I knew I wasn’t in a great spot publicly after the incident, but I would just block it out and work as hard as possible and let my work be my saving grace. In a way, I had thrown a Molotov cocktail at my own career, and it gave me an opportunity, for the first time, to go away and find out who I was. Because I felt very alone. The only person that came to visit me the night it happened was Mos Def. He came to my house right afterward and said, “Move. You’re not going to be able to make it out here. You can’t make it in America right now. You have to move.”

And that’s what I did. I went to Japan for three weeks, then moved to Rome for the rest of the year. I worked as an intern at Fendi. On weekends, I would fly to Paris and sometimes take off four days just to be in Stockholm, Sweden, just to meet with Johnny who runs Acne, or the Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, to find the perfect pair of jeans.

People asked Miles Davis, “What do you want to be remembered for?” He said, “That I’m Black.” People know Kanye West is Black, if they never did before. That’s one good thing, that when that house burned down and it was just the base, they saw that base was Black. Regardless of whatever Polo shirts or tight jeans or suits were worn, whatever complexion of whoever I was dating, whoever my friends were, you saw that the base was Black.

I spent the last year improving every element of myself as a person. By default, my raps are way better now, because I’m at a point where I don’t have to come up with lines—I just think of what I’m really doing and make it rhyme. January first of this year, I started back in the studio. I knew for a while I was going to start that day. I still had a lot of pain, and I needed to write that pain out, and it’s on my new album. But toward the end is when the Kanye West music really came. Everything is a form of my music, but the style of 808s & Heartbreak is better served by Drake and Kid Cudi than it is by me. I think they could both carry that sound better than I could, and also being that Cudi helped design that sound. That style of music is very nighttime, very streetlights. It’s, like, “streetlights glowing.” All that. It’s so funny, in a way. On one end, Drake probably sits and thinks, Wow, I want to make a song like “Power.” And I’ll sit around and be like, Man, I want to make a song like “Say Something. ”

Drake was the first thing that actually scared me and put pressure on me, because it was the first thing that was blatantly from a similar perspective and lane. When I feel pressure, I step my game up. So I believe that Drake made great music for people to love and enjoy, but he also forced me to step my game up, because I have to be Kanye West.

To read the rest of Kanye West’s self-penned cover story and his 40-page package, be sure to pick up the October 2010 issue of XXL, which is on nationwide newsstands now!

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